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De Fontana dell’Elefante is het symbool van de Siciliaanse stad Catania. De Fontein staat op het Piazza del Duomo voor de kathadraal van Catania en Palazzo degli Elefanti. Volgens de geograaf Idrisi beschermt de, van zwarte lavasteen gemaakte olifant, de stad tegen uitbarstingen van de vulkaan de Etna. Liotru, zoals de olifant liefkozend door de Cataniers genoemd wordt, werd in 1239 het officiële symbool van de stad. Al eerder schreven we over een bijzondere olifant in Italië, het kleine olifantje van Bernini op het Piazza della Minerva in Rome. Een symbool gemaakt voor Paus Alexander de VII van heilige kennis en wijsheid. De olifant is door de eeuwen heen een symbool van bescherming en wijsheid, waarom is de mens niet in staat en wijs genoeg om de olifant te beschermen tegen uitroeiing? Onlangs publiceerde het Duitse tijdschrift Der Spiegel cijfers van het Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. Stropers hebben de afgelopen jaren flink jacht gemaakt op olifanten in Tanzania. Zeker 65.000 dieren zijn sinds 2009 gedood. Dat is 60 procent van het totaal aantal olifanten dat leeft in het Oost-Afrikaanse land. Die zouden door de overheid van Tanzania, dat lange tijd bekend stond om zijn grote populatie olifanten, lang geheim zijn gehouden. Vooral in de bekende safarigebieden Ruaha en Rungwa hebben stropers veel olifanten afgeslacht voor het ivoor in hun slagtanden. Alleen al in 2013 werden daar 11.500 van de 20.000 dieren gedood. ”Dit is een nieuwe extreme groei”, aldus Daniela Freyer van dierenorganisatie Pro Wildlife. Zullen monumenten als in Italië binnenkort het enige zijn dat ons rest van de olifant?
The Great Wildebeest Migration, is one of the most impressive events in the natural world, whereas more than two million animals migrate back and forth from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya in order to find fresh grass to eat. On their trek their path is cut several times by rivers. Watching the frantic herds crossing can be very spectacular; there are often scenes of great panic and confusion. The wildebeest fear the water and the creatures that may hide in or near it. Sometimes tens of thousands gather and wait to cross and for no apparent reason, they turn and wander away from the water’s edge. Other times herds may cross back and forth, because they see others of their kind either in the process of crossing the river or grazing on the lush grass on the far side. Hence a lot of people call them “bewildered beest”.
Home again from a two week trip to the Mara, Kenya. The rains have turned the planes into a green meadow, resembling a golf course. Although the big migration has moved on to the Serengeti, there was plenty of game left to see. We had some great sightings. A cheetah with four cubs, amazing lions, beautiful sunsets and massive thunderstorms. One afternoon we saw The Big Five within 30 minutes after leaving the camp. And the good thing was that we did not have to share what we saw with lots of other cars. The advantage of being in the Mara off-season. We took some great pictures, some of which we will post on the Wild Picha Facebook page and on our website in the coming weeks.
Since working on Tata&Squack – Mission Elephant, a children’s book about elephants, I see them everywhere. Last summer when I visited Rome, I ran into an adorable elephant carrying an obelisk on his back. The gentle giant is called Procino, was created by baroque era sculptor Bernini in 1667 and is one of the most curious monuments of Rome. It is the shortest of the eleven Egyptian obelisks you find in Rome and is said to have been one of two obelisks moved from Egypt, where they were built for the pharaoh Apries, nearly 600 years before Christ. The inspiration for the unusual composition came from “Poliphilo’s Dream of the Strife of Love”, an unusual 15th century novel probably by Francesco Colonna. The novel’s main character meets an elephant made of stone carrying an obelisk, and the accompanying woodcut illustration in the book is quite similar to Bernini’s design for the base for the obelisk. The curious placement of the obelisk through the body of the elephant is identical. The sturdy appearance of the structure earned it the popular nickname of “Porcino” (“Piggy”) for a while. The name for the structure eventually changed to Pulcino, the Italian for a small or little “chick”. This may have been a reference to the comparatively short height.
Driving through the Namib desert was a great experience, an art which we as “town clowns” do not master. It does not always bring out the best in people, but when you do succeed to cross this sea of sand as a team, after getting stuck many times, it feels like quite an accomplishment. To begin with you have to be patient and take your time to decide which route to take or you might end up in a sink hole. In the glaring light it is difficult to judge depth of field. To drive up a dune in sugary soft sand can take more than a few attempts. But if you stay in the same track and prevent the wheels from spinning, every run compacts the sand further and finally you reach the top. Then comes the drive down over nearly vertical slopes. The first time I refused to stay in the car. I walked down and watched from below. My heart nearly stopped when I saw the car going over the edge. But the sand seemed to carry it down. It made a muffled sound, like driving through fresh snow, though the temperatures were far from that. The days could be hot with more then 40 degrees Celsius and the nights cold from the winds and the fog being carried in from the ocean. The stunning landscape with its beautiful colors and shapes is full of life with creatures who have adapted to this harsh climate. Little beatles, toktoks, lizards, snakes, scorpions, they all leave their tracks to tell their story. We even spotted a few oryx and a brown hyena walked past our camp on an early morning patrol, hoping to find a few scrapes of our food, just like the crows who kept on following us.
Water-holes come in a lot of different sizes and settings. A lot of them are natural, but they can also be manmade. Some even have floodlights and seating areas, like in a stadium. Falling asleep in this arena can be quite dangerous at night. But most of the time, watching wildlife around a water-hole is magical. The animals come and go at their own pace. Some come alone, others arrive in groups. They might have a bath or just a quick sip. Predators often have the hole to themselves, whilst others have to fight for a spot. The waterhole in Phanhabs Savanna is of course a “phantastic” waterhole. It combines a lot of animals and many waterholes in one picture. The pictures for this illustration, which is a segment of Phanhabs Savanna, were taken in the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta and in Amboseli National Park.
This page of Phanhabs Savanna was inspired by a rather strange encounter we witnessed on one of our safaris. In the book I moved the scene to the edge of a plane, but in real we were driving through an area of woodland, when we spotted three male cheetahs. Normally these graceful spotted cats, who are known for their impressive speed, prefer open areas where they can easily pic up and pursue their prey. These three brothers were looking for a shady, quiet spot to rest. Having found that place they settled down and started grooming. They were shocked when suddenly an elephant appeared out of nowhere. Obviously the elephant, flapping it’s ears, was equally surprised to stumble over three cheetahs…
The story behind the elephant picture which was used for our christmas card is a family story. When we visited Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, last October, we witnessed this beautiful scene on the river on an evening game drive. Most elephant families come down to drink and cool off in the river around midday. Therefore we were thrilled to witness this event in the beautiful evening light. This family had been feeding in an area far away from the river. They were covered in red dust when we saw them approaching peacefully in a long red line through the bush. The knowledgeable guides of Elephant Watch knew exactly which path they would take and where it would lead them. We were able to position ourselves at exactly the right spot along the river, to take these beautiful shots. The whole family splashed into the water, clearly enjoying it’s coolness. We witnessed again how gentle and social these giants are. They greeted each other, the little ones played and were closely watched over by the adults. Gentle giants in the river…
This morning Amsterdam was bathed in a beautiful soft light. The streets and bridges were iced and as always with the first snow and temperatures below zero, people were trying to conquer the bridges. Painters painted this light, which is so famous for Amsterdam. With it’s powdery rose and soft purple glow, Amsterdam would have inspired a lot of artists this morning as it inspired me to take this picture.
We had a great time in the bush camp of Steve and Annabelle, Laikipia Wilderness Camp. We loved the bushy feel, the lovely staff, the great food, the beautiful setting, the wildlife and the dogs! Not only the wild dogs, but also Buster, the bush dog. Buster is an adventures, sweet, little dog, who gives the camp a homely feel. As a pup he used to challenge leopards, but now he prefers to stay on the lookout and hops into the vehicle for the occasional safari. The wild dogs are a specialty in this area. The local packs seem to do very well and currently they are denning. Although some of them are collared it still takes a lot of experience to follow them around. Steve is a real expert in that field. He knows the terrain very well and seems to be able to predict where the dogs will appear during their hunting sprees. Seeing the elusive wild dogs in action is very impressive, their teamwork, the social interaction even the sounds they make.